It’s not unusual for survivors of childhood trauma to have very little concept of emotion as adults. For survivors of SRA, this is magnified even further. Recognising that SRA is a very controversial topic, I can only speak from my own experiences. However, I’m hoping this post might be helpful to other SRA survivors out there.
‘Act, don’t think’ is a popular adage among cult leaders and programmers. Especially for higher-ranking members, the idea is to completely eradicate any sense of emotion. Among the top, that includes even any concept of right or wrong. Life becomes solely about action. I’m very fortunate to have made it out of the cult system without losing my sense of right or wrong, and I’ve always been able to feel emotions, even if only slightly. My problem has been identifying them, and then learning to express them. Inherent abilities for most people, even though we sometimes muddle up that process along the way to adulthood.
My process of learning emotions went from simply conceptualising them as dictionary definitions to assigning them to physical responses to now, when I’m actually trying to name whatever it is I’m feeling. I quite literally thumbed through a dictionary reading the definitions of words like ’emotion,’ ‘anger,’ and ‘sadness.’ I needed an understanding of the terms, which seemed quite like a foreign language at that point. In case it hasn’t become completely obvious yet, I am incredibly analytical. Everything has to make sense and follow logic or at least be open to having a system of logic applied to it. I *make* my world logical, even in a spiritual sense. When things happen outside that system of logic, as they have lately, I haven’t got a clue how to deal with them. That’s partially what this rambling post is– my attempt at analysing why I can’t analyse some of the situations I’m facing at the moment. I’m also known to be a bit stubborn.
A couple of weeks ago, my best friend explained one of the most perplexing concepts of emotion to me. His family went through a very difficult and unexpected situation recently, and it’s still not over. His mother is grappling with that situation, which shook her faith and made her question the very things on which she bases her identity. I’ve sat with her many, many times as she’s cried or spoken in anger, voicing her concerns and questions over and over again. I’d do it again any time– she’s like a mother to me, and I’ll always be right there for her and anyone else I love. Compassion is something on which I pride myself. However, I didn’t understand *why* she needed to express those feelings over and over again. I could relate– my grief issues wash over me on a relatively regular basis, and even if I can’t follow through with it, the need to express my emotions is there– but I didn’t understand *why* that basic instinct of human nature existed. It seemed maladaptive. Feeling and expressing something once, and then being able to move on indefinitely seems like the better option. And I’m almost laughing as I say that. It’s the robotic response I was taught, but it’s also something I’ve broken through now.
My best friend put it in the simple terms I need to understand emotion. The situation hasn’t changed, so why would the response change? *That* makes sense to me. That’s logical. Even though the initial sting of his family’s situation has passed, the situation and its aftermath still exists. His mother needs to keep talking about her feelings on the subject because the situation is still there. She still feels it because that initial break can’t be mended. And even though my losses didn’t happen in the past year, the people I lost will never be back. The initial shock and acute pain of my grief has passed, but the situation remains as it was and the feelings surrounding those losses remain in me.
It’s an important lesson that has taken me years, literally, to understand. I’m hoping this post might help someone get there a bit quicker. We feel emotions because we are alive. In fact, some might argue that the ability to understand and express emotion is what *makes* us alive. We all have those passing issues that are more like annoyances. When we face the really difficult situations, though, we come out of them changed. They stay with us, if only by taking a piece of who we are with them as they pass. The emotions they inspire stay with us as well. Why, then, wouldn’t we need to express them more than once? It’s our attempt to process the concepts introduced in our new lives and our new concepts of self. In expressing the emotions of the situations that change us, we’re merely telling the story of who we have become through what we have experienced. Very little in life is more important than that.